I landed in San Jose at 2:30. The sun was shining and the temperature was around 80 degrees F. My luggage came out of the baggage carousel right away, which was something unexpected and welcomed! I breezed through customs with zero questions. I hailed a taxi and asked him to take me to the Caribean Terminal. Oscar (pronounced Oh-Skerrrr) was a friendly driver who enjoyed practicing his English with me. He took the side streets of San Jose and that is when I started to wonder if I had made a mistake in coming here. The city was cramped and dirty with shacks of all shapes and sizes littering the sides of the roads. Even more disheartening were the metal bars surrounding the shack windows and doors. These shanties were colorful however, bright yellows, blues, pinks and greens. He dropped me off at the bus terminal and I moved slowly towards the ticket booth.
I was starving. I hadn’t eaten anything since my egg mcmuffin at 5am. I bought my ticket to Puerto Viejo de Sarpiqui and purchase some chips at the little tienda nearby. A nice man helped me put my suitcase under the bus and I secretly wondered if after I got on the bus he might have gone back and taken it (as if I had valuables, hah!). The bus was a smaller and older version of a greyhound. I managed to get a seat next to the window (which was open). An old man sat down beside me and proceeded to sleep the entire trip. I watched as we headed out of San Jose. I saw the following: chickens walking precariously close to the highway , unaccompanied, a truck pulled over by the cops with caution tape around the whole vehicle and a group of young men on the hill with handcuffs on (there were dogs in crates in the bed of the truck and I wondered if they were dog fighters), beautiful waterfalls cascading down steep cliffs as we drove up the winding mountain, people of all ages and sizes walking to who knows where…. I saw many things. I was astonished by all of the greenery. I became nervous when the bus started making stops roughly an hour into our trip. I was told that it would take 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to my destination, but I was afraid I might miss it. The bus driver wasn’t announcing the various stops so I leaned over to the sleeping man, poked him in his side, and asked “Puerto Viejo?” He mumbled something in Spanish that I couldn’t understand and then made the hand signal for ‘up that way.’ As people exited the bus he moved to another seat and I was able to stretch out my legs a little. It was very dark by the time we finally made it to Puerto Viejo. A young man helped me with my luggage and I was relieved to see that it was still there. I then looked around and Kaity (the coordinator) came swooping in with a hug and cheek kiss, welcoming me to la Pura Vida. I was introduced to Don Gerardo, the director, and put into the car.
They were taking me to my host family’s house where I would stay for the rest of the evening. We didn’t have to drive too far and we pulled into a grassy yard. My house! How can I possibly describe my house? It is small, but larger than a shack, I suppose. The inside consists of a living room/kitchen, 3 small bedrooms, a bathroom and a laundry/dining area. Basically it is all in the same area. AND part of the house doesn’t have walls, well it’s a wall but it’s actually a fence made of metal. The roof is made of tin. But my shack is nicer than some because my family has a television! And a stereo! And an oven! My family was very welcoming, they had killed a chicken from their backyard in my honor! There are four of them, well five total but their eldest son Tony (12) is gone studying in San Jose. Mom is 27, I desperately tried to do the math on how old she was when she started having children but gave up and returned to that thought later (15, wow!). Dad is 34 and so smiley and happy. Jose is 8 and Jessica is 5. I immediately fell in love with all of them, but mainly with Jessica who followed me around the whole time talking in Spanish that was mumbly and hard to understand. My room is big, well big for their standards and has a twin bed (with a Pokeman blanket) and a dresser. I get my very own toilet and shower in there! But I was told that this room was only temporary and that at the end of the month I am being moved into the smaller room in the front, ohwell. We ate rice, beans, peppers and chicken for dinner. It was lovely. I gave the family some candy I brought with as a gift and the kids were beyond thrilled. By 8:30 I was exhausted and excused myself to my bedroom to unpack and go to sleep. My house is conveniently located one house away from the bar Los Portones. And so I drifted off to sleep to blaring bad Karaoke. I woke up in the dark to the television on as loud as I imagined possible. What the hell? Maybe Papa couldn’t sleep? I looked at my watch and sighed as it read 5am. Oh yeah, I forgot, they get up at that time. I managed to fall back asleep (I didn’t have to be at the center until 9:30) and woke up at 8. I had a moment of panic as I opened my eyes and they focused on a tin roof! Then I remembered where I was. The family was all gone except little Jose who was told to stay and make sure I found breakfast alright. Breakfast was sitting on the stove and consisted of rice, tortillas with cheese and fried bananas… yum! I am convinced already (by their portions and choice of food) that I will surely gain weight while here.
The center is a five minute walk from my casa. It is amazing! It is overlooking the beautiful Sarapiqui river and is full of green wildlife and trails. I met my fellow volunteers and they are all amazingly nice. I helped make lunch in our outdoor kitchen. We made an American meal of Tuna Melts, Salad and Potato salad. It was delicious. I then was shown my first big Iguana that was hanging lazily from a tree. Heidi (the other ESL teacher) and I sifted through various materials in the office and discussed what classes we wanted to teach (I chose beginners). I sat in on a crafting meeting with some local women and Ann (a volunteer from Canada, leading crafts). I met Daniela, a local girl (15) who I immediately adored and she taught me various Tico words that were necessary to know… Que Dicha-Cool, Mop/Mae-Dude, Que Tierna-how cute etc… I saw a Rufus Hummingbird and some other kind of bird that was friendly looking. Birding is huge out here and I am determined to become a birder, traversing the great topography of Costa Rica with binoculars in hand. It is Friday and Kaity is taking me to the Chilamate Jungle (a bar), where I will get acquainted with the Tican beer and some of her local friends. I have gone from wondering if I made a mistake in coming here to thinking I could live here forever in the course of 24 hours. La Pura Vida!
Photos to come